Biden fails in promise to consult with indigenous tribes

The Native Village of Kaktovik (NVK), the only federally recognized tribe in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), issues the following statement today (March 1st, 2021) in response to the Biden-Trudeau announcement to ‘safeguard the Porcupine caribou herd calving grounds’.

Alaska Native tribes are sovereign governments recognized under the Constitution of the United States of America. Any federal actions that potentially impact our rights as promised under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act should be done in concert with the tribal government potentially affected – in this case NVK. The Native Village of Kaktovik will always support the protection of our subsistence resources, but making decisions without tribal consultation often results in unintended consequences for indigenous people.

“People live in ANWR too. The Iñupiat of Kaktovik have been here for as long as the caribou, but nobody is issuing statements promising to protect our sovereign rights. The government isn’t fighting to give us a voice about what can and cannot happen on our lands,” said Eddie Rexford, Sr., president of Native Village of Kaktovik. “Instead we read about the Biden-Trudeau agreement in the news at the same time as the rest of America. There was absolutely no attempt to communicate or work with the tribe.”

In Biden’s January 26, 2021 Memorandum on Tribal Consultation he said it is a priority of his administration to make respect for tribal sovereignty and self-governance, and robust consultation with tribal nations, a cornerstone of federal Indian policy.

“My Administration is committed to honoring tribal sovereignty and including tribal voices in policy deliberation that affects tribal communities,” said Biden. “History demonstrates that we best serve Native American people when tribal governments are empowered to lead their communities, and when federal officials speak with and listen to tribal leaders in formulating policy that affects tribal nations.”

The Native Village of Kaktovik is extremely disappointed that the president has not lived up to those commitments.

“Tribal consultation isn’t a favor to indigenous people, it’s required by law. What we’ve seen from the president’s administration so far is the issuance of dozens of executive actions, many of which directly affect our people. I would remind the president that Executive Order 13175 charges all executive departments and agencies with engaging in regular, meaningful, and robust consultation with tribal officials in the development of federal policies that have tribal implications. His actions directly contradict the law as well as his own promises made to indigenous people,” added Rexford. “As Iñupiat, we believe that strong communication is fundamental to a constructive relationship. Without meaningful dialogue with those most affected by one’s decisions, a relationship cannot exist.”

“This announcement by the United States and Canadian governments makes absolutely no mention of the Iñupiat people who reside at the heart of their decision, but at the same time vows to work with tribes living hundreds of miles away to ensure their interests are protected,” said Ida Angasan, secretary-treasurer, Tribal Council of the Native Village of Kaktovik. “Our rights, views and input have been ignored by countless administrations but we were hopeful that would change. That was the promise. But we continue to be marginalized and ignored altogether. If that doesn’t worry the Native people of this country, it should.”